What is RSD?

You might be asking yourself “What is RSD? Have you been dealing with chronic pain? Has your doctor said you suffer from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)? If so, or you’re just curious because you have heard of these illnesses and want more information, you have come to the right place for help! We want to help you answer the question “What is RSD?”

The Answer to “What is RSD?”

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), also commonly referred to as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome , is a disorder of the sympathetic nervous system that causes chronic pain that can be severe. The sympathetic nervous system regulates involuntary functions of the body such as increasing heart rate, constricting blood vessels, and increasing blood pressure. Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy impacts sufferers so intensely because the body develops an uncontrollable pain syndrome, or a chronic pain that is ongoing and causes a great deal of discomfort. When there has been nerve damage, abnormal responses of portions of the sympathetic nervous system, after they should have healed, are thought to lead to the chronic pain associated with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). This pain starts as localized nerve pain and escalates from there. 

The symptoms of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy typically begin with a ‘tingling’ in the nerves, especially in the arm, finger(s), palm of the hand(s) and/or shoulder. This is characterized as radiculopathy, or a condition where the nerves are not operating properly. This typically leads to burning pain that worsens over time. In some individuals, RSD, also called CRPS, may occur in one or both legs or it may be localized to a particular area in the spine. Frequently, RSD may be misdiagnosed as a painful nerve injury. The skin over the affected area(s) may become swollen (edema) and inflamed. Affected skin may be extremely sensitive to touch and to hot or cold temperatures (cutaneous hypersensitivity). The affected limb(s) may perspire excessively and be warm to the touch (vasomotor instability). The exact cause of this complex regional pain syndrome is not fully understood, although – as was previously mentioned – it may be associated with injury to the nerves, trauma, surgery, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, infection, or radiation therapy.

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